United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

29th September 2020

Alok Sharma moves the Third Reading of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

More than 150 right hon. and hon. Members have spoken during the passage of the Bill so far. We have had around 30 hours of often passionate debate, and I pay tribute to Members across the House for their contributions. The Public Bill Office has been unstinting in its support to all Members and officials across Government, and I am incredibly grateful for all its work. I particularly wish to thank the Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully), the Minister for the Constitution and Devolution, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North (Chloe Smith), and the Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) who have ably steered the Bill through Committee and Report.

The UK internal market is the bedrock of our shared economic and social prosperity as a country. Since the Acts of Union, it has been the source of unhindered and open trade, which has supported growth and safeguarded livelihoods and businesses. It demonstrates that, as a Union, our country is greater than the sum of its parts.

Since 1973, EU law has acted as the cohering force for the UK internal market. In 2016, the British people voted to leave the European Union, which the Government delivered in January, and as we leave the transition period at the end of this year, the Government will leave the European Union’s legal jurisdiction once and for all. We need to replace this law to continue the smooth functioning of our centuries-old internal market, while of course also ensuring that the devolved Administrations benefit from a power surge from Brussels.

The fact is that there is nothing in this Bill that in any way compromises the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is deeply regrettable that some people, for political purposes, seek to unnecessarily scaremonger, and that they should desist from doing so?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I will come on to it. As I was saying, we need to replace the law to continue the smooth functioning of our centuries-old internal market, while also ensuring that devolved Administrations benefit from that power surge from Brussels. The Bill will do precisely that.

Our approach will give businesses the regulatory clarity and certainty they want. It will ensure that the cost of doing business in the UK stays as low as possible, and it will do so without damaging and costly regulatory barriers emerging between the different parts of the United Kingdom. I cannot overstate the importance of this economic continuity Bill, especially as we seek to recover from covid-19. It is ultimately designed to safeguard jobs and livelihoods, protect businesses, give choice to consumers and continue to showcase the United Kingdom as a beacon for inward investment. That is why this legislation is so vital.

My Department and I, along with colleagues across Government, have spoken to a large number of businesses and business representative organisations across the whole of the United Kingdom about our proposals to safeguard our internal market. Businesses have overwhelmingly backed our approach. The British Chambers of Commerce has stressed that

“A fragmented system would create additional costs, bureaucracy and supply chain challenges that could disrupt operations for firms across the UK.”

NFU Scotland has emphasised the importance of protecting the UK internal market, stating:

“NFU Scotland’s fundamental priority, in the clear interest of Scottish agriculture as well as the food and drinks sector it underpins, is to ensure the UK Internal Market effectively operates as it does now.”

I could go on. Make UK has noted that it is particularly important to manufacturers that they can trade simply and effectively across all parts of the United Kingdom. The business community is clear: we must continue to safeguard the sanctity of the seamless UK internal market.

The Bill also respects and upholds the devolution settlements—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) says it does not. He will get a large number of powers—an unprecedented level of powers—back after the transition period. If he does not want them, he ought to stand up and say that, but the reality is that he is against this Bill because he wants to be shackled to the European Union forever. That is the reason he is against this—

The right hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that I am talking nonsense. He just needs to re-read his Second Reading speech and he will see that it is full of inaccuracies. We have engaged in good faith with the devolved Administrations throughout the passage of the Bill. It was very unfortunate that the Scottish Government decided to walk away from the discussions on the internal market last year and, as I said, we want to continue to work constructively.

Let me turn briefly to the Northern Ireland element of this business Bill, which has attracted a disproportionate amount of interest and commentary. I and every Member on the Government Benches stood on a manifesto commitment to ensure that Northern Ireland businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of United Kingdom, and that in the implementation of our Brexit deal we would maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market. The Bill delivers on those commitments. We have also been clear that we must protect the gains of the peace process and maintain the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

The Secretary of State is absolutely right that the Bill has no impact at all on the Good Friday agreement, and, indeed, is only helpful to the economy in Northern Ireland—but only helpful in a limited way. He talked about access to the UK internal market for Northern Ireland goods going into GB, but will he say something about the opposite direction? Northern Ireland depends so highly on imports from GB, and yet there is no mention of safeguards to stop trade being blocked in that direction.

The right hon. Gentleman knows that discussions continue. He and I have had those discussions as well. But he makes the point that this is a business Bill, and I hope that every Member, like him, will support it on Third Reading.

We have taken these powers to ensure that, in the event that we do not reach an agreement with our EU friends on how to implement the protocol, we are able to deliver on promises in our manifesto and in the Command Paper. This is a legal safety net that clarifies our position on the Northern Ireland protocol, protecting our Union, businesses and jobs.

The Irish Foreign Minister said recently that this Bill undermines the EU withdrawal legislation, has damaged trust between the Irish and UK negotiating teams, and is damaging Britain’s reputation globally. Does that give the Secretary of State any cause for concern?

This has been debated over the long passage of the Bill in this House. As the hon. Lady and other Members will know, we introduced an amendment in Committee that provides a break-glass mechanism that ensures that the safety net will come into force only if a motion in this House is passed with a requirement for a take-note debate in the other place. I hope that will allow her to vote for the Bill on Third Reading.

Will the Secretary of State give way?

I will not; I am now winding up.

This Bill provides the certainty that businesses want and need to invest and create jobs. It helps to maintain high standards and choice for consumers while keeping prices down. It reaffirms our commitment to devolution, supporting one of the biggest transfers of power to the devolved Administrations. It allows the Government to invest further in communities across the United Kingdom. This is about levelling up across the whole of the UK and strengthening our precious Union, which some would want to put at risk. I am a Unionist, as is the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband); neither of us are separatists. Above all, the Bill continues to preserve the UK internal market that has been an engine of growth and prosperity for centuries. In voting for this Bill, we protect our constituents’ jobs, businesses and livelihoods. I commend it to the House.



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